I have followed the work of Austin Kleon for the past few years. He has such a fresh way of looking at creativity. Here is a blurb about his book coming out next year and (my favorite) a presentation he gave that outlines what he talks about in the book.
Photo by Kai Oberhäuser
I love a good book. I’m usually drawn to non-fiction these days, and few weeks ago I picked up this book just in the nick of time. The librarian had to go looking for it and told me as she scanned the barcode that they were just about to get rid of it! Here’s to hoping that means that since it’s overdue, I can go in and tell them I want to keep it.
The book is entitled “The War of Art” and is written by Steven Pressfield. I found the book really interesting, but one particular idea seems worth sharing here (perhaps your library still has a copy if you want to read more!). At the end of the book he tells the reader that there are two ways to orient ourselves as artists: one is hierarchically, which refers to finding support and encouragement through the pecking order, or how we rank in comparison with others. The other is teritorially, where the creative individual retrieves support and renewal through the creative territory or medium that they invest in. Here is a little more detail about this idea:
The act of creation is by definition territorial. As the mother-to-be bears her child within her, so the artist or innovator contains her new life. No one can help her give it birth. But neither does she need any help…When the artist works territorially, she reveres heaven. She aligns herself with the mysterious forces that power the universe and that seek, through her, to bring forth new life. By doing her work for its own sake, she sets herself at the service of these forces.
How can we tell if our orientation (as an artist) is territorial or hierarchical? One way is to ask ourselves, If I were feeling really anxious, what would I do? If we could pick up the phone and call six friends, one after the other, with the aim of hearing their voices and reassuring ourselves that they still love us, we’re operating hierarchically. We’re seeking the good opinion of others.
What would Arnold Schwarzenegger do on a freaky day? He wouldn’t phone his buddies; he’d head for the gym. He wouldn’t care if the place was empty, if we didn’t say a word to a soul. He knows that working out, all by itself, is enough to bring him back to his center. His orientation is territorial.
Here’s another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it? If you’re alone on the planet, a hierarchical orientation makes no sense. There’s no one to impress. So, if you’d still pursue that activity, congratulations. You’re doing it territorially.
Isn’t that interesting? I like the way he describes this concept. Earlier in the book he mentions that as humans our default setting seems to be set on hierarchy; who taught you that so-and-so was “cool” in junior high, or that you couldn’t talk to that kid because he was with the “in-crowd”? It’s something we naturally develop. For me, it was so refreshing to take a look at what the territorial orientation would feel like. How liberating would it be if the act of creating itself was all we needed to feel secure in our creations? It’s our choice, as we have the power to frame our perceptions in the way we choose.
He ends with this paragraph to finish up the book:
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.
So there you go. Something to think about for the weekend. Happy Friday!